Angus and Robertson

Bob Hawke by Robert Pullan & Hawke by John Hurst

by
October 1980, no. 25

Success may not always have come easy to Robert James Lee Hawke, but it has come often. In 1969 he became President of the ACTU without ever having been a shop steward or a union organiser or secretary; he had never taken part in or led a strike. His experience at grass roots or branch level in the ALP had not been extensive when he was elected Federal President of the party in 1973. Now, untested in parliament and government, his jaw is firmly pointed towards achieving what has always been his ultimate ambition – the prime ministership.

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The kind of writing that is to be found in Ania Walwicz’s collection Boat is the kind that angers many people. Eschewing punctuation as benevolent and therefore inferior signposts to meaning, Walwicz’s prose is uncompromisingly difficult. Plot is virtually absent. Syntax defies convention. The ugly, both visually and verbally, is preferred to the beautiful.

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Jackie French, according to the press release for her new adult novel To Love a Sunburnt Country, has written over 140 books in a twenty-five-year career. Many are for children and teenagers. I have only read one other, A Waltz for Matilda (2012), the first in ‘the Matilda Saga’ for teens; but these two books share at least one character and several characteristics.

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Veronica Brady is a highly respected critic with long and distinguished experience in the academic and literary worlds. She understands as well as anyone, I am sure, the mysterious workings of the imagination – how a feeling, an image or an impression may strike a spark capable of igniting a flame that fuses often contradictory thoughts and experiences into the ‘little room’ of a memorable poem. So it must have been a deliberate, though to my mind regrettable, decision that made her concentrate on Judith Wright’s life as a conservationist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights almost to the exclusion of everything else – poetry included – in this ample and painstaking biography.

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In his 155-page essay on Australian poetry in The Oxford History of Australian Literature, Vivian Smith modestly makes only one passing reference to his own work, noting that he, with a number of other modern poets, had been influenced by university education.

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As John Sligo spent thirteen years in Rome up to 1982, he experienced vita when life was still dolce in Hollywood-by-the-Tiber where he was one of those expatriates who hobnobbed with both exiled royal families and political refugees. Now a Sydney resident and prize-winning novelist, Sligo worked in Rome for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation and also taught in English-language schools, but these tales mainly show him as a bon vivant, not only in the Italian capital but on excursions to Greece and India.

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Jigsaw Bay by John Merson & Restless by Garry Disher

by
May 1995, no. 170

More than ever books on today’s market have strong competition – particularly so if the title is intended for the 10+ reading audience. Publishers of children’s literature are responding to the need to entice a reading audience from the many technological forms of vivid and spectacular entertainment. Jigsaw Bay deserves a mention in this capacity.

The puzzle of Jigsaw Bay begins on an autumn morning as Danny McCall sets off, not to school, but to a secret place on the bay where he is playing truant with Yoko and Sam who will soon be part of the mystery. The plot is a good action one, strongly based in environmental ecology, corruption, and power. Danny, Yoko, and Sam with the help of greenie school teacher Bob and some slick court room tactics eventually win out and the murky details of corruption in Billington are revealed. The ideas in the plot kept me reading to the end of the book which is intended to attract readers by its directness and lack of complexity. I question, however, whether in an effort to succeed, the author has underestimated his audience and with the very best of intentions has ended up short changing readers.

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Is Robert Adamson Waving to Hart Crane, or drowning? He is certainly calling for help. In 1930, Hart Crane turned his back on Eliot’s The Waste Land and built The Bridge, a poem ‘to launch into praise’, to span across despair towards some brighter shore. But Adamson does not like what he finds on the other side, ‘No sonnet will survive / the fax on fire’, he warns.

The Clean Dark, the 1990 volume that won several national awards, was Adamson at his most meditative, gliding through his riverscapes like a boat at high tide. This time, Adamson is having an argument; with poetry, with other poets, and even with himself. His verse is peppered with questions, with question marks, and exclamation points. He is a shape changer, who breaks down his lines into new forms from poem to poem, and erases his own syntax as he goes along.

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These twenty-one stories have a pedigree; according to the customary list of acknowledgments, they have had a previous life littered across no fewer than twenty-six books, magazines, and journals, some of whose names are unfamiliar even to my local newsagent. I’m not sure these days if places of publication should properly be called ‘sites’, ‘topoi’, or ‘venues’. Such is the prevalence of dope in this book, however, that perhaps they could be called ‘joints’. But This Is For You is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.

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In 1956, A Book of Australian Verse, edited by Judith Wright, was published by Oxford University Press. Her choice of her own poems included ‘Bullocky’ and a couple of others, the over-anthologising of which, at the expense of her other work, was later understandably to provoke her exasperation.

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